H Street Festival
H Street Festival Credit: Darrow Montgomery/File

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Anwar Saleem is frustrated that two businesses backed by billionaire owners are skirting participation in this weekend’s H Street Festival. The executive director of H Street Main Street says the Whole Foods on H Street NE and the Starbucks across from it didn’t contribute any sponsorship money toward supporting the event celebrating the very neighborhood where both stores have capitalized on recent development to do business. 

“These guys, man—Whole Foods talks about all this stuff they’re going to do for H Street and the people who made H Street what it is,” Saleem says. He’s intimately involved in planning the festival. “They don’t deal with us at all. I don’t understand it. My mother always told me, ‘Respect the woman that bore you.’”

Saleem says it costs about $400,000 to put on the single-day event that stretches 11 blocks and features musical performances and 250 businesses, restaurants, community organizations, and vendors. It typically draws 100,000 attendees.

“These corporations are going to let small businesses carry this festival,” he says. “They have a role to play and it should be more significant than these smaller businesses.”

One notable exception is Bank of America. They’re a $10,000 sponsor of the festival and have a banking branch located at 722 H St. NE. “We’re part of the community, and we’re happy to support it,” says spokesperson Andy Aldridge.

What gets Saleem going is that he remembers when Starbucks “sold out of everything they had” inside their coffee shop at last year’s festival. “These guys make money,” he says. “They claim they’re here for the corridor, but they don’t show their support.” 

Dangerously Delicious Pies located at 1339 H St. NE has participated in the H Street Festival 11 times. Co-owner Sandra Basanti calls the lack of participation and sponsorship by Whole Foods and Starbucks “unfortunate but not surprising.”

“Luckily H Street still has so many awesome independently owned businesses that do make the festival a truly great one,” Basanti says. “A multinational corporation doesn’t have to be invested in their community if they don’t want to, although they really should. If they didn’t want to actively participate in the festivities, perhaps they could have sponsored one of the stages in support of the local artists and entertainers. Again, it’s unfortunate but I doubt anyone is shocked.” 

When City Paper reached out to the Starbucks at 625 H St. NE, a representative noted that they “will be open for normal business hours” and “aren’t doing anything in terms of participation.” This particular Starbucks was warmly welcomed in D.C. because of its commitment to serving the deaf community concentrated around Gallaudet University. 

Whole Foods did not respond to multiple requests for comment. An employee at the 600 H St. NE store who answered the phone did not believe they were doing anything in terms of participation. This story will be updated should Whole Foods offer a response.

The H Street Festival will take place this Saturday from 12-7 p.m.

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